“These numbers will not change unless we change,” DeWine said Tuesday. “By more of us wearing masks, by more of us avoiding situations where there can be spread and just really being careful, we can turn this heat down and get back to a simmer of this virus instead of the flame that’s coming up.”
Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday announced a new statewide ad campaign promoting face coverings, saying wearing a mask is the only way people can safely return to their routines. The number of Covid patients in the state’s intensive care units is up 40 percent since Oct. 1.
Mississippi GOP Gov. Tate Reeves on Monday said that hospitals in his state must be able to reserve at least 10 percent of their beds for coronavirus patients or cancel elective procedures. He also issued a mask mandate and limited indoor gatherings to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 50 people in nine counties.
“We’re trying to prevent so many individuals from getting the virus at once that our health care system cannot respond,” Reeves said.
The push by Republican governors whose states are in danger of being overrun by a new wave of infections and hospitalizations reflects the disconnect between politicians who are fighting the virus’ real effects on the ground and Trump’s reelection campaign, which is trying to project optimism that the country is turning the corner on infections, even though the statistics don’t back him up.
Hospitals in Utah and Wisconsin are at or near capacity, while facilities in Texas and Indiana battle medical staff shortages. Nationally, the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 has climbed 20 percent in the two weeks since Trump left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after contracting the virus. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Tuesday that the pandemic has resulted in 299,000 excess deaths from late January to Oct. 3 — a toll members of Trump’s own administration say is sure to sharply increase.
“We’re going straight up again with the number of cases happening each day,” NIH Director Francis Collins warned in an NPR interview Tuesday. “Hospitalizations are up … and I’m afraid, inevitably, that is going to result in an increase in deaths, because that’s what happens every time with about a two- or three-week delay.”
But with less than two weeks until the election, the president has insisted that coronavirus concerns are exaggerated, called the government’s leading infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci an “idiot” and a “disaster” and relied more heavily on Scott Atlas — a coronavirus task force member who backs protecting vulnerable populations while loosening nearly all Covid-related restrictions and letting the virus spread unfettered among healthy people.
Collins said Tuesday that Trump has also stopped meeting with the rest of the task force even as cases and hospitalizations surge and as public health experts warn that the colder weather and approaching holiday season will send more Americans indoors, where the virus more easily spreads.
Trump’s message — delivered at closely packed, largely mask-free rallies — has left local health experts begging his campaign to skip their state.
With nearly 10 percent of Pennsylvania tests coming back positive as the state contends with new infections at a rate not seen since the spring, more than 75 local physicians implored Trump to cancel a Tuesday night rally in Erie, saying the event gives “a false impression that Covid-19 is no longer with us.”
And ahead of a rally Pence is holding in Cincinnati on Wednesday, DeWine pleaded with Ohioans to take precautions if they choose to attend.
“Cases are dramatically up in Southwest Ohio,” he said. “People really need to wear masks if they go to this event and keep some space. This is your life at stake. You don’t know who is going to be there. You don’t know if people may be there who don’t know they have it.”
The GOP governors’ warnings may be resonating with a public already increasingly fearful of the virus.
A Kaiser Family Foundation survey this week found about two-thirds of adults say they are worried that they or someone in their family will get sick from Covid-19, an increase of 13 percentage points since early April.
And more people now — about 42 percent — say the worst of the pandemic is yet to come, compared to the 33 percent who say the worst has passed. In September, the poll found an even split on this question.
Yet there remains a stark partisan divide on these fears, with just 42 percent of Republicans concerned they or a loved one will be infected, compared to 87 percent of Democrats.
With so much of the GOP base influenced by the president’s call for young and healthy people to return to their pre-pandemic lives, Republican governors have to walk a fine line, aware dropping precautions will exacerbate the strain on the health care system and, eventually, lead to higher death counts.
“Many people would like our lives to get back to normal,” said Marc Lipsitch, a Harvard epidemiologist. “The question is whether it can be done safely and whether there’s some way to protect those who are at greatest risk while doing so. And I think the answer is very clearly, unfortunately, no, until we have a vaccine.”